Billabong Camp at Taronga Western Plains Zoo – Our Family Review

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It was all ‘westward ho’ for myself and the twins last week.

We went on a four day, three night expedition to Dubbo, with the main focus being a trip to Taronga Western Plains Zoo.

I had been meaning to go for at least ten years. The big boys and I had a plan when they were little, but the twins came along and everything went pear-shaped.

This trip was just the twins and myself, the teens had way more important things to do. And there’s also their famous quote:

“I don’t know who’s more embarrassing, Mum, you or the twins.’

So they weren’t invited.

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We decided to go in for a penny, in for a pound, or rather just under $350, and stay at Billabong Camp, the tent accommodation within the zoo. I’m so glad we did that as it made the visit a real adventure, mainly because of the evening and early morning walks.

Now this is a long post and so if you want to leap ahead to one of the sections, click below.

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Highlights

  • My twins got to ask zoo keepers so many questions direct. And I was thrilled by the questions they asked. What are the predators of an echidna? Why does a ring tailed lemur have those stripes on its tail? Why do the hippos teeth look so square?

During normal keeper talks around the zoo there are opportunities to ask questions. But there were many more at Billabong as we had a pet zoo keeper looking after a group of about 25 of us. Our guide Steve was around all the time we were there and we did three separate walks with him.

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Steve became a pied piper to all the kids. They followed him around like a little swarm of flies, pounding him with question after question.

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  • The damper by the camp fire. This was absolutely delicious, soft in the middle with chewy crusts, all by the roaring fire and beneath a star strewn sky. My kids don’t spend enough time round camp fires.
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The night time camp fire was popular and so another was one lit in the early morning.

  • Learning that the main work of the zoo is in animal conservation rather than animal exhibition.  Here are two examples: there is a new female lion at the zoo who is being introduced to the male lion with the hope they will breed. This is a slow process of getting them closer whilst still in separate areas. It will take about nine months and during this time they are not on public view at all.  Quite right to keep that sort of slow burn romance very private.

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  • The return to the wild of the Przewalski Horse. We saw a herd of these and learned how they had become completely extinct in Mongolia, where they had been prolific.  Totally extinct, all over.

A massive effort at zoos around the world saw a captive breeding program which worked well. The Przewalksi Horse has been reintroduced to the wild, there are now 1500 living wild in Mongolia. Great effort and only possible because of a careful international breeding program.

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  • The singing Siamang monkeys – amazing vocals on their morning duet. We saw and heard these South East Asian rainforest members of the gibbon family on our early morning walk. The kids were absolutely fascinated by the sound of the monkeys and the excellent information they heard and read. The simiang is now the focus on Rusty Rocket’s rainforest animals project which he got straight into by himself as soon as we got home.

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Dawn: the sun rises over Billabong Camp

Billabong Camp Accommodation

The stay is basically just overnight, but the cost includes two days entry to the Zoo as a whole, free bike hire, plus discount vouchers for the shop and cafe.

The camp area is really very pretty, with a large billabong in the centre. This is unfenced.  Children under five years old are not able to come to Billabong Camp.

The toilet and shower block is modern and clean and spacious. You need to bring your own towels.

The tents have two camp beds, then we had a mat on the floor as there were three of us. We paid to rent sleeping bags and pillows, most people bring their own.

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This is the eating area, meals are buffet-style and there’s plenty of space for all guests to eat comfortably.

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Red torchlight walk at night, this light is softer and doesn’t scare the animals the way a normal white light would.

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Steve answers a million questions at 7am – impressive.

Timetable of the Stay

5pm Arrive and settle in your tent after visiting the Zoo

5.30 Snacks and meeting guides, reptile encounters

6.30pm Torchlight Aussie Animals Walkthrough

You need to use red torches and we spotted quokkas, koalas, echidnas and wallabies, one of which was very friendly

7pm Dinner – BBQ sausages, steak plus salad and potatoes.

8pm Dingo Encounter – we learned a lot about these beautiful creatures

8.15pm  Campfire and supper – cake, damper, hot chocolate and tea

Then… sleep… all fine in the tent….

6.45am breakfast

7.15am Long walk amongst Asian animal section

8.30am back to camp to pack up, ideally leaving by 9am

Spend the rest of the day touring the Zoo

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Zoo in General

What can I say? It was expansive, full of interesting animals and passionate keepers and just a delight to visit.

You definitely need the two days pass to visit. In fact, I could gladly go back for another couple of days.

The Zoo is set on a very large area, with animals kept in open enclosures, fields really, which are much larger than in any other zoo we have every visited. In fact, it’ll be painful visiting other zoos now, I fear.  Moats and fences keep the animals and visitors apart. There’s none of that caged-in feeling.

A 5km road meanders through the Zoo, and we drove round the whole place a couple of times, stopping at various areas. But Dubbo is famous for being a great zoo to cycle around. It’s easier to hop on and off your bike to see the animals and read the fabulous information boards rather than schlepping in and out of the car.

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We did have bikes on our second day. Cycling didn’t prove such a joy for us though, due to the whinging of one of our party. Who shall remain nameless – but it wasn’t me or Rusty Rocket.  I would have been better to get a bike with a little bike pulled along behind. More tips on cycling below.

Keeper talks are really interesting. We loved the ring tailed lemur talk and heard it twice, we also saw the hippos getting their teeth washed – what a vision!

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Hipp washing

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The Zoo Playground

Oh I could rabbit on for hours! This playground is simply wonderful and my twins had two long sessions and had to be dragged away both times.

This playground is at the entrance to the Zoo so you don’t actually need to have paid to enter the Zoo, anyone can just rock up and use it. That’s good isn’t it?  It has terrific equipment for all ages.

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Getting There and Practical Details

A stay at Billabong Camp can be booked via the Zoo website. Once booked the Zoo sends very detailed information of what you need to bring, timetables etc

I am really grateful to the booking staff as I messed up my booking and didn’t arrive the day I was expected. They were very kind and calm and managed to sort us out very well, and with good grace.

The Zoo also has more expensive and luxurious African safari style tent accommodation over at Zoofari Lodge. This is MUCH pricier and the Lodge and tents are not actually within the Zoo, but just outside on the far side of African plains section.

Getting to Dubbo: It took us seven hours to drive from Sydney to Dubbo, this included one long and several short stops. More on the road trip here.

Opening Hours: Every day of the year 9am – 4pm, tickets allow entry for two days

Zoo website: click here

Billabong Camp costs: we paid just under $350 to stay for our night at Billabong. This was for one adult and two children plus bedding. There was a 25% off special at the time we booked.  Click here for all details on costs.

Bike and electric cart hire: It’s good to arrive early as these can be all taken. On our trip we got bikes easily at 10am but they were soon to run out. Carts were already all out. We drove around only on our first day and cycled on our second day after staying at Billabong Camp.

The Zoo is just a couple of kms outside the town of Dubbo. There are many sorts of accommodation available in Dubbo and plenty of other things to do in town. Read about our Dubbo budget accommodation here.

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So we had a lovely time exploring the three square kilometres of Taronga Western Plains Zoo, and meeting many of its 700 animals.

I know well the many controversies over the keeping of animals that really ought to be in the wild. Free to roam, to eat or be eaten.  I do know the down sides.

On this trip though I saw with my own kids the upsides of education about wildlife and conservation. They saw so many things, heard experts first hand, and asked many,many questions. Big impact on little souls.

And on this grown up mum too.

Jamie takes photo

Both twins started taking photos with my camera. This proved disastrous for one of my lenses, sadly, but the upside is that we have some shots of me… unusual!

Seana at Zoo

After so many years of thinking about this visit and talking to people who have been to the Zoo, it was a joy to get there and to stay right in the heart of the Zoo. The early morning roar of the lions is most definitely a sound never to be forgotten!

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Sunrise over the billabong at Billabong Camp.

Have I covered all the information you need to know before planning a trip?

Please do ask any questions you might have in the comments.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on zoos in general and on this zoo in particular.

Happy camping under the stars

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Comments

  1. Oh WOW!!
    This sounds like one of those things you just HAVE to do with kids! We will be booking this little adventure in as soon as the weather warms up…
    I can’t imagine waking up to the sound of lions roaring!!

    Thank you so much for the idea.
    I am pinning it!

    • Seana Smith says:

      Thank you! I was so glad we loved it as it’d been on the radar for so long. We just camped out in the garden last night, inspired by that trip. A long, long drive though, next time I would make sure there was another adult to share. Will post soonish on the other places we stayed and things we did.

  2. A great post! I love details. One of my earliest memories is of being in the toddler seat of a bike with my family riding around Dubbo Zoo. The overnight stay looks great. I’ve done the one at Sydney Taronga with my eldest and its great too . I think this would be great when I get my twins off their training wheels.

    • Seana Smith says:

      I’d love to do the Taronga Zoo one now, with my Mr14 I think, he’d really enjoy it. But that’ll have to wait for another school holidays I think. Massive treat, isn’t it… and quite unique. My little girl was so keen to cycle.. until she got on the bike and then she whinged, but she did get into it after some encouragement.

  3. This looks fantastic! What a great school holidays getaway as the weather starts to cool down.

  4. A great post. I am shocked at home much the tent accomodation was eeek, a great experience though. We stayed at the Mara Safari lodge in Bali last year with the kids it was such an awesome experience :)

    • Seana Smith says:

      Yes, it’s a lot of money in itself, isn’t it? Imagine if the whole family had gone?! I guess that, much as the zoo is a non-profit organisation, it does run like a business and I imagine this Camp helps subsidise the animals upkeep.

  5. It’s a great zoo and I think staying there is the best way to do it with kids. Getting involved in the night feeding must of been a highlight..

    Shame about your camera lense.
    Carolyn

  6. I love this place! We stayed in the tents one year but they were pretty swish with ensuite bathrooms. Dinner was wonderful and then we woke up to a giraffe poking his (her?) head over the fence to say good morning. What a wonderful experience and the special tour was so much fun – even for oldies like us.

    • Seana Smith says:

      Haha Maureen, that sounds marvellous, you must have stayed at Zoofari Lodge. I do fancy that one day too, we could easily visit again, there’s so much to see.

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